LILBURN — History came alive Friday morning for hundreds of Parkview 10th-graders as they heard from one of the original Lost Boys of Sudan, King Deng.
The students are reading "They Poured Fire On Us From the Sky," a memoir of the lost boys of Sudan.
"I wanted my students to see history coming alive," said Lisa Newberry, an English teacher at Parkview who set up the event. "I wanted them to see that their life in Gwinnett County isn't the only life out there and that they shouldn't take their life for granted."
Deng's life is one that students have only seen on TV or heard about in the news. Hollywood has dramatized it in multiple ways, from the movie "Machine Gun Preacher" to various television shows depicting child soldiers in African countries.
However, for Deng, there was no Hollywood involved. It was all real.
"There's a lot of challenges in America," he said. "But nothing like where we came from. You wake up in the morning to come to school and it's not easy. God gave you something and one day you'll use it to make your families proud. We didn't have that chance."
Deng recalled how the gunman came riding on horses one day.
"We were out in the fields in the morning and saw the houses burning," he said. "In that moment you don't know what to do, so I just ran."
Deng knew all about government troops and government-sponsored militias systematically attacking villages in southern Sudan. He also knew that most the inhabitants were killed, which is why he ran.
"At that point didn't see my family no more," Deng said. "And I haven't seen my family in 20 years. I've accepted that.
"My big brother, my stepmother, both got shot. You couldn't cry about it. If you cried, you're brother still wasn't coming back."
What ensued for the 20,000-plus boys in Deng's time was a 2,000-mile journey to refugee camps in Kenya. They traveled across south Sudan, Ethiopia and eventually made their way to Kenya. Only 200 survived the journey due to starvation, dehydration, sickness, diseases, and attacks by wild animals and government soldiers and militia.
"It was hard times," Deng said. "There was no food, and when there was, there was very little. At night, I'd sleep in a tree. In the morning, I had to be careful because the militia's controlled the jungles. If they saw you, they'd shoot you."
Eventually Deng was relocated to the U.S. with many other lost boys beginning in 1999. Now, he goes around the country speaking of his experiences and telling thousands of students across the country to count their blessings.
"I want the world to know what we went through," he said.